I need to apologize to those of you who have been waiting for Fat White Vampire Otaku to be released in trade paperback. That is still in the works, but Dara’s and my family situation has delayed it, likely until the fall. This summer, Dara, who handles all of MonstraCity Press’s editing and formatting tasks, has been completely occupied with taking care of our children and other important family matters. I anticipate that she will be able to return to her MonstraCity Press activities come the fall, when the children are back in school. Until then, I can only ask those of you who prefer traditional paperbacks over electronic books to continue to be patient. Thank you so much.
The US Navy built more than forty ironclad monitor warships during the Civil War (some of them weren’t completed until after the war was over). Some of these monitors had surprisingly long service lives, being pulled out of mothballs for harbor defense duty during the Spanish American War; some even lasted into the first decade of the twentieth century before being scrapped.
I’ve been doing research on the navies of 1862 for my third book in the August Micholson Chronicles, Fire on the Waters, and I came across these fascinating photographs of vessels of the US monitor fleet in their dotage. Some of these photos are so clear and sharp, you almost feel as if you are standing on a dock and staring across the water at an actual monitor.
It’s also fascinating to see how much additional superstructure got added to some of the monitors for their Spanish American War service, a complete repudiation of the builder of the first monitor, John Ericsson’s dictate that the decks of a monitor should be cleared for all-around fire. But the superstructure was necessary to make extended service on the vessels bearable for their crews, for temperatures rose to awful heights below decks, and the below-decks spaces were cramped and suffered from poor ventilation.
One of the river monitors, the double-turreted USS Onondaga was sold to France after the Civil War and, after crossing the Atlantic (a heroic feat for such a low-freeboard vessel as a monitor) served in the French Navy from 1867 until the early 1870s. She was then mothballed and was not scrapped until 1904.
All of the pieces of the USS Comanche were fabricated on the East Coast during the Civil War and were then shipped to the West Coast to be put together at the Mare Island Naval Station. Because of this unusual method of building, she was not completed until after the war, when she was placed in mothballs. Here she is off Mare Island during the Spanish American War, perhaps hoping for the war service she failed to see thirty-five years earlier.
After the Spanish American War, the monitors were quickly mothballed again. Here is a wonderful photo of the USS Lehigh and the USS Montauk at rest in the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1902. The last survivor of the Civil War monitors was the USS Canonicus, veteran of the attack on Fort Fisher. She was towed from Florida to Hampton Roads, Virginia in mid-1907 to take part in the Jamestown Exposition as the last surviving Civil War ironclad. She was finally scrapped the following year.
I had very high hopes for the new American Godzilla from Legendary Pictures. I loved their last giant monster movie, Pacific Rim, so I was hoping they could put a fresh spin on the saga of one of the most famous giant monsters of them all, Godzilla.
Unfortunately, the spin they decided to put on their Godzilla was to turn him into an earthbound Gamera, specifically the Gamera of Gamera, Guardian of the Universe. In that picture, pollution awakens three Gyaos giant carnivorous flying monsters, determined to wipe out humanity, who then have to be fought and defeated by Gamera, Earth’s and mankind’s protector. In the new Godzilla, radiation from a Japanese nuclear plant and from buried American nuclear waste awakens two MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects), one of which flies (and which looks suspiciously like a Gyaos). One MUTO is male (the flying one) and the other is female, and they are determined to wipe out humanity by filling the Earth with their offspring. They must be fought and defeated by Godzilla, Earth’s and mankind’s protector.
Actually, Godzilla is amazingly benevolent towards mankind in this picture, considering that Dr. Serizowa (named after the Dr. Serizowa in the 1954 original version) reveals that all those American atom bomb and hydrogen bombs tests in the Pacific during the 1940s and 1950s were actually attempts to kill Godzilla. Yet we see scene after scene of modern U.S. Navy destroyers escorting Godzilla across the Pacific from Japan to San Francisco, close enough for the monster to swat with his tail or plink with one of his outsized claws, and he doesn’t lay a single reptilian scale on them. Once in San Francisco, he seems to take inordinate care to not knock over any buildings, or at least not any more than necessary while doing the rather ho-hum job of defeating the MUTOs (who look an awful lot like the giant praying mantises that Godzilla faced on Monster Island in Son of Godzilla). Dr. Serizowa (who does not invent an oxygen destroyer in this film, nor any other type of anti-Godzilla weapon) explains that Godzilla is Earth’s special resource to maintain the balance of nature. Cue the garlands of daisies…
The monster battles (what most of the audience showed up for) mostly lack pizzazz, and many of them are set at night, which tends to make the scenes murky and hard to follow (I had the same complaint about some of the jaeger-kaiju fights in Pacific Rim). However, I will give the screenwriters and the special effects technicians their props for figuring out two very satisfying ways for Godzilla to put the kibosh on his foes (not such a big spoiler, since you know there’ll be a sequel).
About two thirds of the film is taken up with a rather paint-by-the-numbers domestic plot involving a U.S. Army bomb demolitions expert, his nurse wife, and their young son. The actors are all appealing and earnest, but no new territory was paved here – just the standard family-in-peril scenario. Near the end of the film comes a moment so unbelievable that it stretches even the low level of verisimilitude to be found in a giant monster movie. The nuclear missile which the hero had been attempting to dismantle instead plods out of San Francisco Harbor on a fishing boat set on auto pilot. It couldn’t have made it more than a couple of miles outside the harbor when the one-megaton warhead explodes. No one dies. No massive wave engulfs what is left of San Francisco. Our hero, entirely exposed to the blast wave and radiation, suffers no ill effects.
Yes, I wanted very much to like it. Parts of it I did. And my sons thoroughly enjoyed it; my oldest said it was the best monster movie he had ever seen. I’ll have to show him the original King Kong again, or the original Godzilla, King of the Monsters. But I’m afraid the “old school” special effects pale in the eyes of the young generation in comparison with the latest computer-generated effects.
It’s here — the long awaited third installment in the Fat White Vampire series of humorous horror novels! Jules Duchon and his vampiric family suffer through the ravages of Hurricane Antonia and struggle to survive in a New Orleans which is almost entirely depopulated. Where will they get their blood? Salvation comes from the most unlikely source possible — a trio of Japanese superheroes called Bonsai Master, Anime Girl, and Cutie-Scary Man. Yet that salvation comes with a terrifying but laugh-inducing price… the blood which the three superheroes donate has unpredictable effects on Jules and his family. Chaos ensues as Jules is transformed into a seven-foot-tall white rabbit, his wife Maureen puts on three hundred pounds, and his mother Edna becomes a vicious human/vampire vacuum cleaner!
Buy it for the Kindle on Amazon for $5.99!
Coming soon in trade paperback!
Note: This is an article I originally published in July, 2013. I haven’t yet seen the new American Godzilla, so this isn’t a review of that. Rather, this is a look back at the most recent reboot of Godzilla, Japanese-style, and a comparison with the most recent reboot of one of Godzilla’s screen rivals, Gamera.
With little-known director Gareth Edwards currently working on an American reboot of Godzilla, scheduled for release during the Big G’s sixtieth anniversary in 2014, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at the last time movie-makers gave rebooting classic kaiju characters a shot. The most recent two efforts were Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) and Gamera the Brave (2006). I recently had an opportunity to view the two films almost back to back, in order to best compare and contrast their differing approaches to renewing the appeal of long-lived kaiju stars.
Godzilla: Final Wars represented Toho Studio’s fiftieth anniversary celebration of their most famous creation. It was their 28th Godzilla film and the sixth in the Millennium series (the character’s earlier two series are known as the Showa series and the Heisei series). They clearly meant to “pull out all the stops” with this film, stuffing it full of monsters from earlier movies (many of which had not been seen on the big screen in twenty-five or thirty years), cameo appearances from veteran Godzilla actors, and many hat tips to plot elements from earlier films (the alien Xilians have a good bit in common with the aliens from Planet X in Godzilla vs. Monster Zero). In many ways, it can be seen as a remake of Toho’s fondly remembered Destroy All Monsters (1968), which featured eleven of Toho’s kaiju stable.
One of the oddest elements of the film is how little of it is dedicated to its supposed star, Godzilla. In common with nearly all the films of the Heisei and Millennium series, Godzilla is portrayed with minimal personality, little more than a very bad-ass radioactive dinosaur with a great big chip on its shoulder. Thus, the screenwriters felt compelled to fill up the majority of the movie with plot elements centering on the human (or mutant) characters. The first half of the movie comes off as a Japanese version of the X-Men film series. It focuses almost entirely on two rival mutant soldiers in the Earth Defense Force’s M-Unit. The two mutants, Shinichi and Katsunori, are both friends and rivals, and they vie for the affections of a molecular biologist, Miyuki, who is recruited by the United Nations to study a mummified space monster (which turns out to be Gigan). Another standout character is Douglas Gordon (portrayed by American mixed martial artist and professional wrestler Don Frye), the captain of the EDF’s attack submarine, the Gotengo (itself a retread of the submarine from 1963’s Atragon). The Gotengo, with Gordon aboard as a young cadet, had trapped Godzilla in Antarctic ice forty years prior to the future in which Final Wars is set. In a weird costuming choice (which somehow works for me), Gordon, who is presumably an American working for the United Nations, dresses like a World War Two-era Russian commissar.
The biggest draw of the film is the huge number of giant monsters from earlier Godzilla movies which it drew out of retirement. Final Wars tops Destroy All Monsters’ tally by featuring fourteen kaiju (or twenty-one, if you include seven kaiju who make brief appearances via stock footage). The all-star line-up includes Godzilla (last seen in 2003’s Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.), Manda (most recently seen in Destroy All Monsters back in 1968), Minilla (this version of the Son of Godzilla hadn’t been on screen since 1969’s Godzilla’s Revenge), Rodan (as Radon, he’d last appeared in 1993’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2), Anguirus (most recently seen in 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla), King Caesar (his only prior appearance was in the 1974 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla), Mothra (most recently seen in 2003’s Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.), Monster X/Keizer Ghidorah (Ghidorah, a Toho staple, had last appeared in Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack in 2001), Gigan (not seen since 1972’s Godzilla vs. Gigan), Hedorah (his only star turn had come in 1971′s Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster), Ebirah (last seen, in stock footage taken from 1967’s Gozilla vs. the Sea Monster, in Godzilla’s Revenge in 1969), Zilla (the American Godzilla, whose only appearance came in 1998’s Godzilla), Kumonga and Kamacuras (both previously seen in Godzilla’s Revenge). Other classic kaiju also make brief appearances via stock footage, including Varan (last seen in Destroy All Monsters after starring in Varan the Unbelievable in 1958), Baragon (most recently seen in 2001 in Giant Monsters All-Out Attack), Gezora (Space Amoeba, 1970), Gaira (The War of the Gargantuas, 1966), Mechagodzilla (most recently seen in Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. in 2003), Megaguirus (Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, 2000), and Titanosaurus (Terror of Mechagodzilla, 1975).
Unfortunately, having to divide screen time between so many monsters leaves precious little time for any individual monster to shine, especially given that much of the first half of the movie is given over to interactions between the human, mutant, and space alien characters. For example, I would’ve loved to see more of a rematch between Hedorah, the Smog Monster, and Godzilla, but their battle takes up less than ten seconds on screen, Godzilla batting him aside as though he were a tomato can. (By way of contrast, in their first encounter, back in 1971’s Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, retroactively written out of existence in the Millennium series, the Big G took an entire movie to figure out how to put Hedorah down for the count; the Smog Monster was one of those horrors who got “killed” multiple times but kept rising from apparent defeat.)
Part of the conceit of the films of the Millennium series is that none of them follow the earlier movies in the series; the only precursor each film has is the original 1954 Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Thus, each Millennium movie represents a reboot of almost everything that came before it. However, over his then fifty-year history in films, Godzilla had enjoyed long, even complex relationships with a number of other kaiju. Ghidorah was the George Foreman to Godzilla’s Mohammed Ali, having fought Godzilla nearly ten times before. Godzilla also boasted some allies of long-standing. Rodan had assisted him in Godzilla vs. Monster Zero and Destroy All Monsters before battling him (as Radon or Fire Rodan) in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2. Anguiras started out as a foe in the very first Godzilla sequel, Godzilla Raids Again, and then became one of Godzilla’s most indefatigable allies in Destroy All Monsters and the original Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. Godzilla’s most interesting long-term relationship could be said to be the one he shared with Mothra. They had started off as antagonists (in 1964’s Godzilla vs. Mothra), gone on to be allies in multiple adventures (in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, and Destroy All Monsters), become enemies again (in Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack), and finally allies once more (in Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. and Godzilla: Final Wars. Yet because of the set-up of Final Wars and all the earlier films in the Millennium series, the screenwriters had to pretend that the clashes in Final Wars (all the other monsters, with the exceptions of Manda and Mothra, were under the mental control of the Xilians) represented the very first time that Godzilla was encountering his fellow kaiju.
I think this represented a major lost opportunity for the makers of Final Wars. For me, at least, a good bit of the attraction and charm of the later films in the original Showa series, from Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster through Terror of Mechagodzilla, comes from the interactions between Godzilla and his fellow monsters. In the Showa series, the last film in which Godzilla is a pure heavy is Godzilla vs. Mothra; beyond that film, Godzilla generally serves as a protector of Japan or at least a somewhat benevolent force, allied to an extent with the human heroes. Although his antics could sometimes be silly (such as his flying stunts in Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster and Godzilla vs. Gigan), they could just as often be wry and charming. Ever since Godzilla 1985, though, the first film in the Heisei series, filmmakers have been loathe to incorporate any of those elements of Godzilla’s earlier personality. In each of the subsequent movies (with the notable exception of Godzilla’s “origin story,” Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, when the proto-Godzilla shows empathy for a group of trapped Japanese soldiers in World War Two), the Big G is portrayed as an angry dinosaur of very little brain, a virtually mindless engine of destruction (and thus a reflection of his persona in his very first appearance on the big screen).
Ten years after Toho relaunched their Godzilla character with Godzilla 1985, the first film of the Heisei series, rival studio Daiei relaunched their own popular kaiju star, Gamera, in his own Heisei series with Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995). (Gamera, of course, had been a late response to Godzilla’s success of the 1950s and 1960s, first appearing in 1965, after Godzilla had already starred in five films.) Two more Gamera films followed. Then, in 2006, filmmakers decided to reboot Gamera’s continuity yet again in Gamera the Brave. This film begins with the original Gamera sacrificing himself in 1973 to destroy several Gyaos monsters to save Earth. Thirty-three years later, a young boy discovers a glowing egg on an island, which hatches into a seemingly normal tortoise, but one which is actually the son of Gamera.
The little tortoise soon alerts his owner, young Toru, that he is no ordinary turtle by levitating in the air. Soon thereafter, he begins a tremendous growth spurt, and the two friends are separated after the flying turtle, named Toto, outgrows Toru’s bedroom and Toru tries to find an outdoor home for his unusual pet. Later, Toru and Toto are reunited when a new, aggressive kaiju, Zedus, attacks Toru’s city. Toto’s initial effort to battle Zedus is unsuccessful, but Toru and the newly gigantic Toto team up to ultimately defeat the rampaging Zedus, and Toto takes up the full power set and mantle of his parent, Gamera.
I’ll admit that Gamera the Brave ended up being a much more impressive and satisfying movie than I’d expected it to be. In large part, this is due to the strong performances given by the movie’s child actors (in stark contrast to the insufferable, grating, oftentimes almost unwatchable performances of child actors in the movies of the original Showa series; maybe it was the poor quality dubbing that made those performances seem so awful, but I can’t imagine the performances come off much better in the original Japanese). In comparing Gamera the Brave to Godzilla: Final Wars, I think the former film does a better job of encapsulating, modernizing, and strengthening the key element that gave the Showa films their appeal. The Gamera reboot tells the story of a powerful friendship between a child and a giant monster; beyond the original Gamera the Invincible (1965), all of the Showa series movies centered around Gamera’s efforts to befriend and protect the children of Japan. In contrast, Godzilla: Final Wars, while reintroducing a small army of Godzilla’s former allies and foes, ignores the relationships between the kaiju that provided so much of the appeal of the latter Showa series Godzilla films.
Unfortunately, Frank Darabont, screenwriter for the upcoming American Godzilla reboot, sounds determined to continue in the footsteps of his predecessor screenwriters of the Heisei and Millennium series Godzilla films, explaining in an interview that he wants his Godzilla to be perceived as a terrifying force of nature. He dismisses the later films of the Showa series:
“And then he became Clifford the Big Red Dog in the subsequent films. He became the mascot of Japan, he became the protector of Japan. Another big ugly monster would show up and he would fight that monster to protect Japan. Which I never really quite understood, the shift. What we’re trying to do with the new movie is not have it camp, not have it be campy. We’re kind of taking a cool new look at it.”
So Darabont seems to believe that the most recent Godzilla movie that Toho released was 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla. He acts as though the Heisei and Millennium films never existed, because what he describes is exactly how the makers of those films reconceptualized Godzilla, returning him to his original persona.
I don’t think this bodes well for an ongoing series of American Godzilla pictures. The last several Millennium series movies were disappointments at the box office (which is why Toho has taken a ten-year break from making any new Godzilla movies and has now licensed that responsibility to Legendary Pictures). It’s hard to sustain a series focused on a brainless “terrifying force of nature.”
But even if the newest Godzilla does a colossal belly flop in the theaters in 2014, at least the Big G can rest easy that he has his official star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, a gift from Hollywood on his fiftieth birthday…
I will admit right now that I did not see the first film in the Spider-Man reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, nor did I pay much attention to its reviews. Oh, I picked up that Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker tended toward the “emo” side even more than Toby Maguire had. But that was about all I had going into this new motion picture this past weekend with my kids. We had all enjoyed the first two big-budget Spider-Man films with Toby Maguire, and I was expecting a movie with much the same tone – lots of humor, some romance, a little bit of horror with the villains, and some great special effects and fight choreography.
The movie started off well enough. Spider-Man foils a theft of plutonium and is just as wise-cracking in the process as he generally is in the comics. The very end of the film also had the same tone, when Spider-Man ended up battling the same character (who is played for laughs) in a very different villainous guise. But the in-between parts? Dark, dark, dark.
The movie features two main villains and one “minor” villain at the end. Honestly, this was two villains too many. And the tone of the villains seemed way off for a Spider-Man film. Batman’s villains are walking horrors (the Joker, Clayface, Two-Face, the Scarecrow, etc.). Spider-Man’s villains, on the other hand, are supposed to verge on the near-goofy, at least in their original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko and Stan Lee/John Romita, Sr. portrayals.
Think of the original portrayals of such villains as the Beetle, the Sandman, the Rhino (I’ll never forget the look on his face the first time Spider-Man was able to dissolve his super-costume off of him), and, yes, even Electro (don’t tell me that “electro-shock” yellow hood he originally wore wasn’t somewhat comical). Dr. Octopus wasn’t particularly dark, being more of a forever downtrodden megalomaniac. The darkest members of Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery was the original Green Goblin, Norman Osborne, and the second Green Goblin, his son, Harry Osborne. But the rest of them were often portrayed for laughs, as the butts of Spider-Man’s quips, even when they teamed up against him in groups such as the Sinister Six.
But in this film, both Electro and the Green Goblin were portrayed like villains straight out of The Dark Knight series. The origin stories (in the film) of Electro and the Green Goblin are both horrific. My kids were covering their ears and closing their eyes. I nearly did the same. When did superhero films become so darn intense? Much of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 felt like a combination of one of the Fast and Furious movies with plentiful helpings of The Evil Dead mixed in. By the end of the first third of this very long movie (two hours and twenty-two minutes), I was regretting my choice to bring my kids (who had loved PG-13 superhero or action movies such as The Avengers and Pacific Rim). They said afterward that they had liked The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but their reactions during the picture belied that.
Another big failing of this movie was that there is simply too much going on. In their attempts to tie everything together (all revolving around Oscorp), the screen writers throw in:
(a) the deaths of Peter Parker’s parents when Peter was a child (his father was a geneticist working for Oscorp);
(b) the death of Norman Osborne (who in this remake/reboot never becomes the Green Goblin, although his genetic disease causes him to grow goblin-like talons before he dies);
(c) the introduction of a battle suit which Norman had invented, supposedly to save his son’s life from the genetic disease they both shared (but how a flying battle suit with pumpkin bombs is supposed to accomplish this feat is never explained);
(d) Oscorp genetic research on spiders and spider venom (which created Spider-Man in the previous film and which promises to potentially cure Harry Osborne in this one);
(e) Max Dillon’s transformation into Electro (yes, he works for Oscorp and designed the entire power grid of New York City, but he is treated like a lowly flunky at the corporation), care of genetically altered electric eels and a precipitating electrical accident at the Oscorp plant; and
(f) sneak peeks at Oscorp battle suits for the Rhino and Dr. Octopus and possibly other members of Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery (the little snippet passed by too fast for me to mentally process all three or four battle suits shown).
So everything is Oscorp, Oscorp, Oscorp. It appears to be, not only the only evil corporation in New York City, but the only corporation, period. Even Gwen Stacey works for Oscorp!
Alas, poor Gwen Stacey. I don’t think I’m ruining the story for too many Spider-Man fans by mentioning here that the poor girl does not come to a good end. To ramp up Peter Parker’s sense of guilt at putting Gwen in jeopardy by being her boyfriend, the film includes two or three “hallucinations” by Peter of the dead Captain Stacey, Gwen’s father, who I presume in the first movie of the reboot series told Peter to stay away from Gwen, and was then killed in the line of duty. But the identity of Captain Stacey’s “ghost” is never made clear in the current film; I only figured it out because I’m familiar with the Stan Lee/John Romita, Sr. story in which Captain Stacey died during one of Spider-Man’s battles. It blew right by my kids, and I’m sure it blew right by any audience member who is not a hardcore Spider-Man reader and who did not see the first film in the reboot series.
The screenwriters simply cram too much story into too little movie, even though the movie runs nearly 2.5 hours long. There was enough plot here for two or even three movies. The climactic battle against Electro should have been the final climax of this movie – but two more major superhero-super-villain fights are yet to come! In addition to the film’s crescendo of tragedy! Also, Electro, in my humble opinion, is simply portrayed as being far too powerful, way out of Spider-Man’s league. The feats he was able to accomplish in this movie would have made him a worthy foe for the Mighty Thor, who is at least ten times as capable and powerful as Spider-Man. I understand the writer’s temptation to make the hero’s predicament dire, but in this case they overshot the mark, making Spider-Man’s eventual triumph over Electro seem downright unbelievable (yes, I know it is a superhero movie… but it took the entire Avengers team to beat Loki and his minions in The Avengers, and Electro was portrayed as a Loki-class villain in this film, which he never was in the classic Spider-Man comics).
With all the above in mind, I can’t give this picture more than 2 stars out of 5 (and I gave an extra half a star for the very beginning and very end of the movie, both little bits having been enjoyable and in the spirit of Spider-Man). I’m afraid I won’t be taking my kids to see the next one in this series, if I can at all avoid it.
Who would be the most recognizable living literary celebrity to the average man on the street today?
I would guess Stephen King, and that being mainly because so many of his novels have been turned into popular films (and the fact that he, himself, has appeared rather frequently in movies and on television). I would give the runner-up spot to Maya Angelou, and that mainly for her poetic recital at President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration and for her political activities on the behalf of Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama since then.
But would the average man on the street recognize the faces of any of the last twenty recipients of the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize for Best Novel, or even the Nobel Prize for Literature? Would they recognize any of their names?
I highly, highly doubt it.
Such was not always the case in the United States. As recently as the 1980s, the face and name of Norman Mailer were immediately recognizable. Now, admittedly, Mr. Mailer was famous for more than his books – he was also famous for stabbing one of his wives and for ticking off a couple of generations of feminists. But in the decades prior to the 1980s, literary celebrities, of whom Norman Mailer was one of the last ones, were not at all uncommon. The names and faces of writers such as Arthur Miller (also famous for his brief marriage to Marilyn Monroe), Truman Capote, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway frequently appeared on the covers of such popular periodicals as Life and Time.
But there was a golden age of literary celebrity, prior to the pushing aside of novels as the favorite mass media of cognoscenti and commoners alike, and that was the latter half of the nineteenth century. Then, celebrities such as Mark Twain and Charles Dickens could have lived very, very comfortably off just their speaking fees. Before the advent of the movies, radio, and television, they were the Charlie Chaplins and Clark Gables of their day. Then, unlike today, when any potential literary celebrity must have an easy faculty with television, a literary celebrity did not even need to have a pleasant-sounding voice.
I was struck by the following scene from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1870 novel Devils, in which one of the supporting characters, the famed writer Karmazinov, is a wickedly funny caricature of the equally famed real-life Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev:
“When rumors had reached us of late that Karmazinov was coming to the neighborhood I was, of course, very eager to see him, and, if possible, to make his acquaintance. … When we met he was standing still at the turning and looking about him, attentively. Noticing that I was looking at him with interest, he asked me in a sugary, though rather shrill voice:
“’Allow me to ask, which is my nearest way to Bykovy Street?’
“’To Bykovy Street? Oh, that’s here, close by,’ I called in great excitement. ‘Straight on along this street and the second turning to the left.’
“’Very much obliged to you.’
“A curse on that minute! I fancy I was shy, and looked cringing. He instantly noticed all that, and of course realized it all at once; that is, realized that I knew who he was, that I had read him and revered him from a child, and that I was shy and looked at him cringingly. He smiled, nodded again, and walked on as I had directed him. I don’t know why I turned to follow him; I don’t know why I ran for ten paces beside him. He suddenly stood still again.
“’And could you tell me where is the nearest cab stand?’ he shouted out to me again.
“It was a horrid shout! A horrid voice!
“… I almost turned to run for a cab for him. I almost believe that was what he expected me to do. …
“He suddenly dropped a tiny bag… I flew to pick it up.
“I am convinced that I did not really pick it up, but my first motion was unmistakable. I could not conceal it, and, like a fool, I turned crimson. The cunning fellow at once got all that could be got out of the circumstance.
“’Don’t trouble, I’ll pick it up,’ he pronounced charmingly; that is, when he was quite sure that I was not going to pick up the reticule, picked it up as though forestalling me, nodded once more, and went his way, leaving me to look like a fool.”
I actually had a very similar experience to that of Dostoevsky’s hapless narrator. My run-in was with the famed (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) science fiction writer Harlan Ellison.
In 1987 or thereabouts, I was browsing among the long aisles of science fiction and fantasy books at Forbidden Planet, a huge SF, fantasy, and horror books, comics, and toys store located at Broadway and East 13th Street in Manhattan, when I happened to see Harlan Ellison also browsing on the very same aisle. Trying to be as discreet as possible, I spent the next ten minutes following him around the store, staying at least three quarters of an aisle away, checking out what he was checking out. Then, having selected a few books, he went to the register to pay.
With his back turned toward me, I felt liberated to openly stare at the man and his purchases (none of which I can recall). I hid at the edge of an aisle and watched him head for the exit. But just before he left the store, Ellison swiveled around sharply, stared right at me with a sardonic smile, and offered me a little wave. Then he walked outside. Just like Dostoevsky’s narrator, I was left feeling like a fool in my own eyes.
In the science fiction world of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Harlan Ellison was the science fiction world’s Norman Mailer, equally as famous for his outrageous conduct as for the stabbing quality of his writing. His name and face were instantly recognizable to the great majority of science fiction fans, thanks, in part, to his photo appearing on the back dust covers of such seminal anthologies as Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions and for his having written one of the most fondly remembered and honored episodes of Star Trek, the heart-rending “City on the Edge of Forever.”
Yet today, fans of written science fiction are a very minute sub-group of the mass of sci-fi and fantasy fans, most of whom have knowledge of the field that begins either with Star Trek or Star Wars, or any of an innumerable number of sci-fi video games or roleplaying games. I would venture a bet that at DragonCon, perhaps the largest “pure” science fiction convention on the planet, host to up to 40,000 attendees, perhaps two percent of those attendees would recognize the name Harlan Ellison, and considerably less than one percent would be able to pick his photo out of a lineup. Yet as little as thirty-five years ago, his face was one of the most recognizable in the science fiction world. Now only Neil Gaiman, known more widely for his Sandman comics and his leather jacket than for his novels, might be recognized by a fraction as many science fiction fans as Harlan Ellison was recognized by in his heyday. The name George R. R. Martin would be recognized by some, but that is only because his series A Song of Fire and Ice has been turned into the massively popular HBO television series Game of Thrones. The total pool of fans of the genre has grown so much larger, and the space occupied within that fandom by written works has shrunk even faster.
Such is the fate of the literary celebrity today…
5/6/14 Addendum: A commenter over at The Passive Voice writing industry blog points out the case of Michael Chabon. I think Chabon is richly illustrative of the point made by my article. He has won several of the top literary awards; his books, while considered literary fiction, are very accessible to the wider reading public and feature strong, well-constructed plots; he is exceptionally photogenic (People Magazine once named him “One of the Fifty Most Beautiful People in America”); and, much like Ernest Hemingway was in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, Chabon is the personification of his era’s dominant/elite conception of masculinity. If this were any time between 1930 and 1980, the era when the mass media lionized top writers, Chabon’s face and voice would be everywhere. But with the splintering of both the mass media and popular culture into thousands of sub-segments, as opposed to the monolithic mass media and pop culture which existed until fairly recently, Chabon is as lost in the crowd as any of us (despite his appearance in People Magazine, which itself does not have nearly the same clout it once had).
It’s now May, 2014, which (in my household, at least) is officially “Godzilla Month,” due to the upcoming release of the Legendary Pictures reboot of the venerable Toho Studio franchise.
As a longtime Godzilla fan (I saw my first Godzilla movie, Destroy All Monsters, at the age of three in the back of my parent’s convertible at a drive-in movie in Miami), here are my hopes for the new movie:
• I’d like Godzilla to look like GODZILLA, not some mutated iguana or monitor lizard (like in the 1998 American version, which was a sort-of-decent giant monster movie, but a lousy Godzilla movie). From the pics I’ve seen, I think this one is covered.
• I don’t want Godzilla to move/run/fight at the speed of a scalded cockroach (like he did in the 1998 version). He is much more impressive as a somewhat slow but unstoppable force of nature (as he was in the original Godzilla, King of the Monsters).
• Would it be too much trouble to ask for Godzilla to have a smidgeon of a personality, apart from perpetually-pissed-off dinosaur? I’m not saying he needs to get all cuddly, like he was in Son of Godzilla or any of the monster team-up movies like Godzilla vs. Gigan. But maybe some facial expressions? Maybe some distinctive moves? Legendary Pictures did a good job of giving their giant Jaiger robots in Pacific Rim some personality, but all their monsters have had the personality of a salamander, thus far.
• I was pretty impressed with the script for Pacific Rim. Will the new Godzilla have some genuine human interest, or will it just be a trio of monsters bashing each other in San Francisco? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…)
Oh, and here’s a somewhat hilarious article from the International Digital Times, entitled “Is Godzilla Too Fat? Japanese Fans Outraged Over ‘Godzilla’ 2014 Portrayal As A Chubby Kaiju.”
“OK, so it’s a little hard to miss the fact that Godzilla is a little chubbier than usual in the latest Godzilla 2014 trailer, but we would never fat shame the tubby behemoth. Fat shaming Godzilla is exactly what fans are doing… Japanese fans are calling the new Godzilla ‘out of shape Godzilla,’ ‘Metabozilla’ and ‘pudgy and cute.’ Some of the more hilarious insults being hurled at the new monster are that ‘his neck looks like an American football athlete’s,’ ‘he got beefed up from the radiation at Fukushima’ and ‘that’s what happened when all your do is eat and lay around.’”
Hey, maybe Legendary Pictures will ask me to do the novelization of their latest film. I’ve got the perfect title – Fat Green Dinosaur Blues…
Toho Studios and the dynamic duo of director Ishiro Honda and special effects wizard Eiji Tsubaraya are best known in the U.S. for their kaiju films starring Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, King Ghidorah, and other giant inhabitants of Monster Island. But their kaiju films were far from their only excursions into the science fiction and horror realms. At least three such Toho flicks are notable for featuring amorphous aliens, shapeless specters, random radioactive rascals, or fiends without form (there – I think I’ve exhausted my alliterative abilities, at least for the moment).
Although the best known monstrous mass of moldy goo from 1958 is undoubtedly The Blob, the first film to feature Steve McQueen in a starring role (and also memorable for its tongue-in-cheek hit theme song), Toho actually beat Paramount Pictures to the punch with their not-too-dissimilar horror flick, The H-Man (the former was released in September, 1958, whereas the latter was released in Japan in June, 1958, first appearing in the U.S. in May of the following year). The original title of this sprightly horror film was Beauty and Liquid Men, which suffers when translated into English, as do many Japanese film titles.
As with so many Japanese films of the period, the monsters are created by nuclear radiation out at sea (this is also the scientific explanation behind the mutagenic mushrooms found on the deserted island in Matango). Special effects technician Eiji Tsubaraya, the man behind the effects in all of the Godzilla pictures from the original Godzilla, King of the Monsters to Godzilla’s Revenge, designed the “liquid men” as blue effluence that could move of its own volition and take on roughly human shape.
With much of the film’s action set in or near a nightclub, Masaru Sato composed a jazzy score that adds much liveliness to the film. The nightclub acts give the film a kitschy, vintage charm. The monsters themselves aren’t very scary, until you see one dissolve a beautiful singer. The film’s climax, set in the sewers beneath Tokyo, reminds me of the subterranean climax of Them! (where the giant ants are cornered by the army in the storm sewers beneath Los Angeles. It also adds a good bit of genuine horror to this science fiction pic.
On account of the gangsters and their molls, the nightclub singers, and that suspenseful climax, I give The H-Man three stars out of five.
My favorite of this amorphous “trilogy” is definitely Matango (alternatively titled Attack of the Mushroom People or Matango, Fungus of Terror — the latter one of the all-time great monster film titles). In part, this is because I watched it at least half a dozen times as a kid on late-night or Saturday afternoon TV, so it made a big impression on me. Also, it is an unusual film for Toho and director Ishiro Honda in that it mainly focuses on psychological horror, rather than physical monsters. This is mainly due to its origins in the William Hope Hodgson story, “The Voice in the Night,” a 1907 tale of psychological horror (which I have not yet read, but which is on my list).
A group of young Japanese men and women on a pleasure yacht are forced to beach their craft on a seemingly deserted island after a fierce storm at sea damages their boat. Much of the island is covered by a rapidly growing fungus, as is another beached yacht, this one abandoned, which they come across. They quickly run out of canned foods and are forced to forage on the island. The yacht’s captain warns them not to eat the mushrooms, as they may be poisonous. They subsist for a while on bird’s eggs (although most birds avoid the island), potatoes, and seaweed, but one of their number succumbs to the call of the mushrooms and eats some. Their influence drives him mad, and he attacks his fellow castaways. One by one, the members of the yachting party eat the mushrooms, and they begin to see shambling, walking mushrooms, some of which appear vaguely human…
I won’t spoil the ending for those of you who haven’t yet seen it, but it’s a doozy. I give Matango four out of five stars for its atmospheric horror, unusual for a Toho film.
Before the script for Giant Space Monster Dogora (retitled Dagora, the Space Monster for American television) was written, I picture Ishiro Honda having the following conversation with monster master Eiji Tusburaya:
“Okay, we’ve done a combination Tyrannosaurus Rex and Stegosaurus (Godzilla, King of the Monsters),” says Honda.
“Check,” says Tusburaya.
“We’ve done a pair of love-sick pterodactyls (Rodan).”
“We’ve done a giant moth (Mothra).”
“We’ve done a giant flying squirrel (no, not Rocky of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame, but Varan the Unbelievable).”
“We’ve done a three-headed dragon that spits lightning bolts (Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster).”
“So what kind of monster haven’t we done?”
“How about a giant space jellyfish that eats coal and dies when exposed to plentiful doses of wasp venom?”
“Fabulous! Get me a script writer!”
Yes, the creature does end up being vulnerable to wasps’ venom, which turns its jelly-like substance crystalline. One of the funniest scenes in the movie (perhaps inadvertent; I couldn’t tell) comes when a trio of hard-luck diamond thieves (Dagora eats carbon; that’s the connection with the jewel thieves) are suddenly crushed by a falling chunk of the crystallized monster while hiding behind a big rock on a beach. Violent slapstick worthy of the Keystone Cops.
This is one of the only Toho science fiction or kaiju films in which the giant monster is not played by a man in a rubber suit. Also, Dogora/Dagora was one of the only Toho giant creatures to not appear in the all-star kaiju cast of Destroy All Monsters in 1968 (c’mon, even Varan the giant flying squirrel puts in a brief appearance in that film).
Despite the beauty of some of the scenes of Dagora in the night sky over Japan, I can only give Dagora, the Space Monster two point five stars out of five, due to the incredibly convoluted nature of its story, involving diamond thieves, coal deposits, wasps, etc. etc. etc. A little too baroque for its own good, I’d say. If only more of the film could have had that fabulous sense of wonder inspired by those few scenes of the creature floating over Tokyo in the night sky…
Two Dozen Outstanding Independent Bookstores – the Death of the Physical Bookstore is Greatly Exaggerated
Whereas many blogs on the publishing field mourn the coming death of the physical bookstore, the membership of the American Booksellers Association (the trade group for independent bookstores) has been gradually growing each year since 2010. And the website Flavorwire.com has published two lists of outstanding independent bookstores, one listing 45 stores, the other listing 25 stores. These articles are a real treat for lovers of independent bookstores.
Some of these stores are fairly new, founded since the most recent economic downturn. But many of them are long-standing central gathering places for their neighborhoods, their storied existences stretching back over decades.
I’ve gone through the list of 70 independent bookstores and note below the 15 stores I have a personal familiarity with.
Politics & Prose, Washington, DC
This is my current “hometown” bookstore, being only six miles away from my workplace in downtown Washington, DC. I’ll admit to not yet having made the 45 minute subway trip there, but this store has a reputation as one of the most outstanding booksellers in America, so I will get there eventually. Presidents, ex-presidents, and presidents’ wives have given readings here (and maybe I will too, someday).
BookPeople, Austin, TX
I visited this store several times when I lived in New Orleans and used to make fairly regular trips to Austin for ArmadilloCon. Wonderful ambiance, and very friendly to readers of science fiction and fantasy (they have a huge selection of such books).
City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, CA
This is one of the most famous bookstores in America, founded by one of the original Beats, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. When I visited San Francisco on business a couple of years back, it was at City Lights that I discovered I needed reading glasses – I spent so long browsing there that I had a splitting headache later that night, and my eyes felt like they were about to fall out of my head. When I got home, I immediately bought a pair of reading glasses, and that fixed the problem. City Lights is also a publisher of poetry, non-fiction, and Beat-related fiction.
Atomic Books, Baltimore, MD
This is a store which I’ve always wanted to visit but haven’t gotten to yet. But I am very familiar with their terrific website, from which I’ve ordered lots of fun and eclectic stuff. Their specialties are graphic novels, pop culture, and alternative/weird lifestyles and fandoms; right up my alley! Baltimore isn’t that far from my home, so I will get there, eventually.
Books & Books, Miami, FL
This is actually an indie-mini-chain of bookstores and coffee spots/booksellers in the Greater Miami area, with the largest and oldest store located in downtown Coral Gables. I did a signing there in 2005, when I was staying in Miami Beach with my family following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (my home city was off-limits for nearly two months). The owner, Mitchell Kaplan, who founded the flagship Coral Gables store in 1982, was a big supporter of Hurricane Katrina relief, running at least one benefit reading during the crisis; for that, I will be forever grateful. Books & Books’ various locations sponsor approximately 60 author readings each month.
Square Books, Oxford, MS
This is one of my favorite stores in the whole world, in one of my favorite small towns (home to William Faulkner, whose house is now a fascinating museum). Two levels of literary goodness; and if you desire literature or non-fiction at a bargain price, Off-Square Books is right around the corner, specializing in quality close-outs. I signed stock there several times in the mid-2000s.
Maple Street Books, New Orleans, LA
For many years, one of my favorite “home town” bookstores. Maple Street Books is the grand-daddy of the Uptown New Orleans independent booksellers, having been founded in 1962 (here’s a terrific article on the store’s history, written by local mystery author Kris Wiltz, who is pretty terrific herself). Many, many were the times I stopped in to browse or to sign stock of the Fat White Vampire books.
Housing Works Bookstore Café, New York, NY
This is a very fun used books store and café in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan, where all the books are donated, and all funds raised above operating expenses are donated to various housing-related charities.
D. J. Wills Books, La Jolla, CA
Founded in 1979, this very well-stocked store is also the home of the La Jolla Cultural Society.
The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA
Wow, do I wish the Elliott Bay Book Company was a little closer! I’ve only gotten to visit there twice, once on my honeymoon with Dara in 2003, and the other time on a recent work-related trip. One of the largest bookstores in Seattle, which is one of America’s great cities of readers, and located in historic Pioneer Square, not too far from Underground Seattle (where the TV movie The Night Strangler was filmed). Back in 2003, I bought an issue of Locus Magazine which had one of the first reviews of Fat White Vampire Blues, a review so wonderful it brought tears to my eyes. For that reason alone, I’ll never forget the Elliott Bay Book Company.
Strand Bookstore, New York, NY
Eighteen miles of books! New, used, and close-outs! Three stories big! In the heart of Manhattan! Back when I lived in Long Island, I used to take the Long Island Railroad into Manhattan nearly every weekend, and more weekends than not, the Strand was on my agenda. It is a not-to-be-missed destination for any book lover who visits NYC.
Octavia Books, New Orleans, LA
I simply cannot over-praise Octavia Books and its owners Tom and Judith Lowenberg. Tom and Judith hosted the “opening night” readings and signings for both Fat White Vampire Blues and Bride of the Fat White Vampires. They also hosted three annual George Alec Effinger Memorial Readings, each timed to coincide with the release of a new retrospective hardback edition of George’s fabulous short fiction from Golden Gryphon Press (now, sadly, defunct). Octavia Books is far from defunct, however. Tom and Judith were two of the very first merchants to re-open in New Orleans following the re-opening of the city to its inhabitants, and they provided a vital community gathering center and source of “normality” during those stress-filled first several months after the storm. Since then, they have gone from strength to strength, hosting several author events each week (with free refreshments).
Book Revue, Huntington, New York
During the three years I lived on Long Island, this was my home-away-from-home. Along with Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor, this is the center of Long Island’s literary culture.
St. Mark’s Bookshop, New York, NY
A fixture of the East Village bohemian scene ever since its founding in 1977, this was also one of my “not-to-be-missed” stops on my long walks from Chelsea to Alphabet City. Open seven days a week until midnight!
Kramerbooks and Afterwords Café, Washington, DC
A fun place to both browse and eat, Kramerbooks and Afterwords Café features late hours, a big menu, and plenty of books to eyeball. I plan to have my fiftieth birthday lunch there.
The Flavorwire.com lists missed some terrific independent bookstores with which I’m personally familiar. I list 9 additional stores below.
The Booksellers at Laurelwood, Memphis, TN (formerly known as Davis-Kidd Books)
This huge store in Memphis was a centerpiece of my 2004 tour for Bride of the Fat White Vampire. They treated me with exquisite courtesy and are just as welcoming to their customers.
University Books, Seattle, WA
Another of Seattle’s tremendous independent bookstores, this one is close to the University of Washington and features a huge, and very well-curated, science fiction and fantasy section. A highlight of Dara’s and my honeymoon in Seattle, along with the Elliott Bay Book Company.
Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Seattle, WA
For mystery lovers who are visiting Seattle or who live there, this gem of a store, hidden on a side street in the historic Pioneer Square neighborhood, nestled between several cafés, is not to be missed. A huge selection of new and close-out mysteries from all the major (and minor) names in the field.
Left Bank Books, Seattle, WA
You revolutionaries and anarchists out there will not want to miss this tiny store nestled within the Pike Place Market, not far from the fresh fish vendors.
Arundel Bookstore, Seattle, WA
A very well-stocked store located just blocks from both the historic Pike Place Market and the Pioneer Square neighborhood; very close to the bay and all its attractions.
Borderlands Books, San Francisco, CA
I am very fortunate that I can call the owner of this wonderful science fiction, fantasy, and horror bookstore, Alan Beatts, my friend. He invited me to do a signing of The Good Humor Man and the Fat White Vampire books at Borderlands on my one and only trip to San Francisco (also home of one of my publishers, Tachyon Publications). I could’ve spent three times the couple of hours I’d allotted for browsing. Borderlands also features a terrific coffeehouse and bakery on the premises.
Mysterious Galaxy Books, San Diego, CA
This carefully curated science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and horror bookstore is a San Diego mainstay. They’ve always been big supporters of my Fat White Vampire books. The staff there are extraordinarily knowledgeable about their stock; it’s worth your time to just go spend an hour chatting with them.
Garden District Book Shop, New Orleans, LA
Owner Britton Trice knows his books. He located his store in the historic Rink property in the Garden District of New Orleans, along fabled Magazine Street, upstairs of a popular coffeehouse. Garden District Books specializes in signed books by local authors, so if you want your signed Anne Rice tome, this is the place to get it!
Finally, here’s a story from the 9/23/13 issue of New Orleans Gambit on the state of New Orleans’ indie bookstores, which, considering the small size of the New Orleans market and the large number of independent booksellers, is far more positive than the doomsayers would have you believe. The Uptown Borders Books died a year after it opened (in the shell of the old Bultman Funeral Home, ironically enough), but this cluster of Uptown independent bookstores has been going strong for years.
Hail the independent bookstore! Long may you survive and thrive!
Update on 4/24/2014: Jay Ouzts at the Passive Voice blog reminds me that I missed Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi. How could I possibly forget them???? I actually did a signing there on a couple of occassions for the Fat White Vampire books. One of the nicest independent bookstores in the South, in an absolutely beautifully designed location. Plus, downtown Jackson sports some classic diner-style restaurants, which are a short drive away from Lemuria.
Readers of my steampunk supernatural suspense novel Fire on Iron know that most of the novel is set aboard a fictional City-class ironclad river gunboat, the USS James B. Eads. What some readers may not be aware of is that one of the James B. Eads‘ “sister ships,” the USS Cairo, is on display at the Vicksburg National Historical Park, located in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Cairo was sunk on December 12, 1862 by a submerged Confederate “torpedo,” or what we would call today a mine. Almost a hundred years later, in 1956, historian Edwin C. Bearss, employed by the Vicksburg National Historical Park, located the wreck, buried in the mud of the Mississippi River.
In 1960, Bearss succeeded in raising various pieces of the wreck, including the Cairo’s armor-plated pilothouse. Four years later, he had succeeded in securing additional funding from the State of Mississippi, and an attempt was made to raise the entire wreck in one piece. However, the three-inch thick cables which were being used to raise the wreck sliced through the ironclad’s wooden hull (Cairo was built of wood and partially plated with 2.5″ thick railroad iron and sections of boiler plate). So the decision was made to allow the cables to slice the gunboat into three sections, each of which was raised separately.
In 1965, the various sections and chunks of the wreck were placed on barges and first towed to Vicksburg, then towed again to a shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where the engines were disassembled, cleaned of rust and mud, and reassembled, and the various other parts of the ironclad were put together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The wooden parts were continuously sprayed with water to keep them from cracking. It took many years for Congress to raise the necessary funds, but in 1977 the wreck, now partially restored, was towed back to the Vicksburg National Historical Park and put on display on a concrete base, next to a small museum, which displayed small artifacts recovered from the wreck (personal belongings of the ironclad’s sailors), and a gift ship which sold Cairo-related books and models. Since then, the old ironclad has been more fully restored and now rests under a protective awning.
I first visited the Cairo back in 1994, when I was writing my first draft of Fire on Iron. While I still lived in New Orleans, I made several pilgrimages to the Vicksburg National Historical Park to visit the only surviving US Navy river gunboat of the Civil War period.
I hope you enjoy the slideshow below of the Cairo in her original glory, being salvaged from the bottom of the Yazoo River, and how she looks today on display.
The science fiction website SF Signal has linked to my recent article, “The New Immortality of Authors and Books,” on its Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Links Page for 4/17/14.
SF Signal is a marvelous science fiction, fantasy, and horror website, winner of the 2012-13 Hugo Award for Best Fanzine. The site currently has over 866 pages of content. Current contents include a podcast interview with author Daniel Price, a link to the Functional Nerds podcast, and a link to the new trailer for the upcoming film, X-Men: Days of Future Past, which, if it is anywhere as good as X-Men: First Class was, should be one terrific movie.
The article has also been linked to by Locus Online, “The Website of The Magazine of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Field” (Locus Magazine has won the Hugo Award for Best Semi-Pro Magazine I think 33 times; they should just call it the Locus Award, but then again, there already exists a Locus Award, so forget that). Locus Online is the best online source for the most recent news in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror fields, and they also include lots of book and movie reviews and author retrospectives. Edited by Mark Kelly, it is invariably a fantastic read, and is worth visiting on a weekly basis. My article was linked to in the Blinks section on the left hand side of the web page for 4/17/14.
I’d like to pose (and attempt to answer) four related questions. When is a relationship dead? When is a writer dead? When is an author dead? When is a book dead?
When is a relationship dead? When one of the two parties who formerly made up the relationship refuses to continue to relate. One party may continue to try. But with only one party making an effort, the relationship is dead.
I’m thinking about this very frequently nowadays. My relationships with my mother and my step-father are dead. They refuse to talk with me. When I was in the hospital for six days, they made no attempt to contact me, nor did they send a get-well card. They were not ignorant; my brother and sister filled them in regarding my distress and situation.
I recently received the news, through my sister, that my step-father is ailing. I asked my oldest son, Levi, if he would like to send his grandfather a get-well card, even though his grandfather no longer sends him letters, cards, or gifts. He said he wanted to send a get-well card, anyway, so I went out and bought one for him, put stamps on it, addressed it for him, and let him fill in the inside with a personal message. I also added a brief message of my own, very simple — “Dad, I hope you feel better soon. Love, Andy.”
By servicing the dead, one services the living. I was servicing the dead, and I was teaching my son to do the same. When we visit a gravestone and place flowers by it (or small pebbles from home, as is a common Jewish custom), we are servicing the dead, but in truth, we are servicing the living — ourselves. We are preserving a sense of connection with the departed and remembering the loving times we spent together. My step-father is dead to me. But by sending him a card with a brief message, I am recalling the years of love we shared, before he decided to cut off our relationship. I am also teaching my son that sometimes it is good and proper to take the effort to send someone something of yourself, even if you cannot expect any response in return.
A writer is no more than a person who writes. The only relationship necessary for writership is that between a writer and his or her work. When is a writer dead? A writer is dead when the person who writes dies.
An author is a writer who has an audience other than him or herself; the audience can be as small as one other person. Authorship is a type of relationship, a three-way relationship: the relationship between the author and his work; the relationship between the author and his reader(s); and the relationship between the author’s work and the reader(s). When is an author dead? An author is dead when all three of those relationships are severed, and they may be severed when only one party in the relationship is failing to maintain the relationship. In the relationship between the author and his work, the author can renounce his work and stop writing. In the relationship between the author and his reader(s), either party can stop sustaining a relationship which has been built. In the relationship between an author’s work and its audience, either the work can go out of print and be discarded from all lending libraries (the work severs the relationship), or the audience can stop reading the work.
When is a book dead? Either when the book is no longer available to persons who might otherwise be its audience, or its existing and potential audiences stop reading it.
The new hybrid forms of writer-publisher and author-publisher means that fewer writers, authors, and books will die. The assurance of publication means a writer will likely continue to write and continue to have a relationship with his work. The availability of social media, blogs, and websites means that an author’s direct relationship with readers need not cease until the author’s death. And the invention of ebooks, which need never go out of print, mean that very few books of lasting worth will ever die, for they will always be available to the readers who are willing to search them out.
I used to be an author; I was a writer with an audience. Now, having lost the majority of my audience, I am once again a writer. But by starting my own small press and publishing my books as both ebooks and physical books, I am taking steps to achieve life after death for me as an author and for my books.
One of my best friends in the blogosphere, books blogger Professor David Myers, has been informed that his cancer has recurred and that he has, at most, two years left. He has written a wonderful, touching, and profound article called “Dying is a 12-Step Program.” I highly recommend it to anyone who has a friend or family member who is dying, who has a fatal illness his or herself, or who is faced with a major life crisis of any sort.
Also, David’s blog, A Commonplace Blog is fabulous, filled with hundreds of fascinating and illuminating articles about books and authors. Here is a link to his review of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. And here is a link to his article “Best American Fiction, 1968-1998,” in which he includes Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (It is listed and commented upon first on a list of 27 outstanding books, mostly literary fiction; it is the only SF book on the list.) Check it out, too.
And please, if and when you visit the blog, send David your best wishes for his recovery. Miracles have been known to happen, and he did manage to temporarily beat his cancer once before.